Alex Lavelle has stepped down as editor of The Age three and a half years after taking the job and less than a week since staff criticised the editorial direction of the masthead.
Michelle Griffin, world editor at The Age and until recently news director, has been appointed to act as editor until a permanent replacement is found.
Lavelle joined the newsroom in 1999 and has been news director and sports editor.
In a statement, he said it had been “an absolute privilege to lead this great masthead and wonderful newsroom”.
“I am immensely proud of the extraordinary journalism we have produced and of the positive impact so much of our work has had. We have achieved great things together.”
He also thanked the paper’s “passionate, talented and dedicated staff” and “growing band of readers and subscribers for their support”.
Journalists ‘alarmed’ over BLM and slavery coverage
Lavelle’s departure comes days after 70 journalists from The Age wrote an open letter to him, executive editor James Chessell and chief digital and publishing officer Chris Janz.
The letter said the journalists watched “with alarm” at the editorial direction of Black Lives Matter coverage after the paper published a story that claimed protesters threatened to spit on police, without being properly substantiated.
They also criticised “an ill-informed editorial” that said Australia “does not have a legacy of slavery”.
The journalists wrote: “We believe there is a growing public perception that we have become politicised, a perception that is damaging the reputation of The Age and, potentially, the viability of the business.”
The Age later corrected the protest story saying it fell short of The Age‘s editorial values and standards.
The editorial was corrected several days after publication.
Chessell wished Lavelle all the best, saying under his stewardship the masthead’s “total audience has gone from 3.3 million since he became editor to 5.3 million today, according to EMMA data”.
“The Age newsroom can feel confident about its future at a time much of the media industry faces uncertainty. This is, in large part, down to Alex’s hard work.”
Masthead ‘too Sydney-centric’
Associate Professor Andrea Carson from the Politics, Media and Philosophy Department at La Trobe University said Lavelle was well respected by colleagues and his departure would come as a shock to many.
“Alex Lavelle’s swift departure … comes with a backdrop of recent events, including a staff petition from newsroom staff questioning editorial independence, a concern that the paper is too Sydney-centric and questions over editorial interference from management,” Associate Professor Carson said.
“It is reminiscent of the departure in 2016 of Andrew Holden, who left amid concerns The Age was becoming a poor cousin to the Sydney Morning Herald and that major business decisions were coming from Sydney and imposed on Melbourne.
“This time around, it seems the focus is on editorial, rather than management, decisions being decided out of Sydney.
“The Age‘s motto is ‘independent always’ and with the departure of Lavelle and the petition by staff, this motto is being tested to its core.”